“We opened the shop to try and get more people to the studio,” Michael Shindler of Photo Booth SF explained to us. He and business partner Vince Donovan wanted others to experience the photo process they had grown so fond of—creating tintypes. The photographic process that takes place in their San Francisco studio is exactly the same as the processes used in the 19th century.
“It’s a surprisingly simple process. It’s rapid enough for a 30 minute turnaround,” Michael told us. Tintype images are made directly on a metal plate that is placed into the back of the standing camera. Once the camera has been focused, the subject must remain incredibly still. After the photo is snapped, Michael or Vince will bring the plate back to the darkroom for the precise developing process.
Prior to opening Photo Booth SF, Michael had been teaching at a photo center for about ten years. He was always expanding his horizons by teaching himself different photo processes, then would bring his new knowledge to his students. “I was always into the darkroom craft,” he explained to us. “But then that stopped being part of the process. At some point, it was tough to see the point in printing film when the quality of digital prints was so great.”
Feeling a disconnect from printing, Michael sought a medium that would still allow him to be physically involved with the image process. The answer? Tintype prints.
Because there’s only one plate involved in the process, it makes it more original, almost like a painting. “It’s interesting because plates are in the room with the subject,” Michael explained to us. As an example, he referenced the only remaining portrait of Jesse James in existence—a tintype. Purchased a few years ago for a few million dollars, it’s an item that Jesse essentially interacted with.
“I see it as both an art form and a craft,” Michael told us of creating the prints. “It’s an interesting, precious object for the person in the photo.” When visiting San Francisco, it’s a souvenir you can pop in and pick up at Photobooth SF—a unique alternative to a postcard.
Photos by Nick Fay